Speculative Fiction Reviews
An Occasional Review Journal

You've probably noticed there are no new reviews here. I simply haven't time for reviewing and writing recently, and reviewing has had to go. For now, this journal is closed. Apologies.

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Surprising Stories, May 2004

Outside of the big magazines that we all know about, and the high-quality semi-pros, there are dozens of amateur and low-pay zines publishing science fiction and fantasy. Surprising Stories, edited by John Thiel is one of them.

Although you'll find a lot of weak fiction in some of these publications, if you dig around, you'll also find some gems.

I'm not going to review the whole of Surprising Stories, but I do want to cover three stories I thought deserved particular mention.

Rome, If You Want To, by Lou Antonelli

Rome, If You Want To is set in near-future Dallas, as global warming begins to bite. A limo driver is approached by two strange women asking for a tour of the city.

The writing in this story is rather clumsy, particularly at the beginning, but you shouldn't let that put you off. Antonelli's story opens up to show visions of other presents and futures, and it is tinged throughout by a beaufiful sense of sadness at what might have been had we made different decisions in the past. The protagonist of the piece, Thom Burns, is a lonely figure who seems lost against the background he finds himself in, and the final redemption the tale offers him is both inevitable and satisfying.

Antonelli has recently made his professional debut in Asimov's, and although this appears to be an earlier story, his potential is clear in it. Worth checking out for someone who may develop into a significant writer.

Bobby Goes to the Fair, by Steve Bomkamp

My second choice from Surprising Stories is Steve Bomkamp's Bobby Goes to the Fair. A small boy in a fairground attempts to find out secrets about the world from men in "stately gowns". But they won't talk to him.

What makes this story stand out is Bomkamp's naive, almost opaque, trance-like writing. The story seems more like an extended poem than a work of prose, at times. Although the story doesn't quite deliver at the end and not everything is very clear, there is enough on the way to make this a story worthy of attention.

Bogey Man, by Roberto Sanhueza

Roberto Sanhueza brilliantly brings to life a future in which everything is enhanced by virtual reality simulations seen through implants. Our hero is Saber, a detective who simulates himself on Sam Slade. When a beautiful woman comes into his office to ask him to get evidence about her cheating husband, Saber finds himself working in a simulation of Rick's Cafe from Casablanca. But there is more going on than he realises.

Sanhueza has taken the effort to construct a realistic, original future. He uses the plot twists of both the science fiction and hard-boiled detective genres to produce a fast-moving, interesting story with a satisfying, unexpected ending. I was surprised to find such a well-polished story in such an out-of-the-way magazine. I commend it to you.


Although these were the only three stories to stand out in Surprising Stories, each one of them offered something different and original. Surprising stories shows a good range of stories in both science fiction and fantasy. It's well worth a read.

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